Madagascar tourism attraction goes up in smoke

A section of the Andringitra National Park on the southern Malagasy highlands. RIVONALA RAZAFISON | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Madagascar is staring at heavy tourism revenue losses and an environmental disaster following the burning of two national parks in quick succession.

Sections of Andringitra National Park were gutted from Wednesday to Saturday, while Isalo National Park suffered a similar fate between Monday to Thursday.

The two leading tourist attractions are situated on the southern Malagasy highlands.

The director of the national parks' agency MNP, Dr Mamy Rakotoarijaona, said the Isalo fire was started by poachers on the run.

“For security reasons, it was impossible to immediately intervene to extinguish the fire, and given the dry weather, it proved quite a big challenge,” explained the official.

The Isalo National Park comprises scenic landscapes originating from ancient geological formations and resembles the canyons of western America.

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Dr Rakotoarijaona said it took the combined effort of the military, the park personnel and the local residents to put the Isalo inferno under control, but not before some 1,500ha, or 1.8 per cent of the entire expanse had been consumed.

He explained that although the ecological cycle of the Isalo forest required periodic burning, for their natural maintenance system, the fire had come at the wrong time.

Visiting the park that attracts an annual average of 35,000 visitors has since been suspended.

The park director said that the cause of the fire at the Andringitra National Park was yet to be established, although bandits were the prime suspects.

Established in 1999, the 31,160kmsq protected area was added to the World Heritage Sites in 2007 as part of the rainforest of eastern Madagascar.

International researchers warned in 2015 that Madagascar could lose two-thirds of its current forest cover by the end of the century, if the current destruction trends continued.

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